The Montgomery County Board of Education photographed at an August 2022 meeting. Credit: Caitlynn Peetz

The Montgomery County Board of Education will vote Thursday on a resolution to treat snow days as school days, similar to the snow-day virtual learning approach adopted for the 2021-22 school year.

It is the first item on the board’s meeting agenda at 1:20 p.m. following a one-hour public comment period.

The superintendent of schools may “use discretion when transitioning to virtual learning on days when school buildings are closed due to inclement weather,” according to the policy, which is laid out in a memorandum available through the board’s website.

The resolution requires Montgomery County Public Schools to decide by noon the day prior whether to take a virtual learning day when inclement weather is forecast. On virtual learning days, school starts at 10 a.m. MCPS is required to provide all students access to a Chromebook in order to attend classes from home.

Many school districts across the state have already been approved for similar virtual snow day plans by the Maryland State Department of Education, or MSDE, including the neighboring districts of Howard County and Prince George’s County, according to data from MSDE.

One parent from North Kensington, whose son is in first grade, said he feels the policy is a “good faith effort to try to fix a problem,” but believes it ultimately “creates more confusion and chaos than it’s worth.”

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The man, who asked to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns, told Bethesda Beat he sent an email to the school board on Tuesday outlining his concerns, which included childcare complications and issues with the virtual learning model itself.

“Virtual learning was proven not to be as effective as everyone hoped during the pandemic period, between both test scores and reading levels,” he said, describing the policy as something that will force schools to “basically relive the pandemic all over again.”

“If nothing else, the vote should be delayed and input should be gathered from stakeholders,” he said.

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The option for virtual learning is a topic that’s been heavily discussed over the past two years, school communications officer Jessica Baxter told Bethesda Beat in an email. There’s not much change in the plan compared to last year, she wrote.

“This year, we sought feedback through the calendar development engagement in the fall from students, staff, parents and community members,” she wrote. “About 74% of the 10,500 who responded to the survey stated they were in favor of some type of virtual instruction.”

When MCPS first shifted to virtual learning during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, reports found the virtual model led to higher rates of failing grades in math and English, especially for Hispanic and special education students.

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The school system came under fire for perceived inconsistencies and lack of communication about its policy of choosing in-person or virtual learning during the COVID-19 lockdown, for which Superintendent Monifa McKnight issued a public apology in January 2022.

Board member Brenda Wolff (Dist. 5) told Bethesda Beat on Wednesday that she was not ready to comment on the agenda item, adding that she usually reads all written materials the evening before a scheduled board session.

Community members can attend the meeting, which opens to the public at noon, at the Carver Educational Services Center, 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville. The meeting will also be streamed via the MCPS YouTube channel. If the plan is adopted, it must then be approved by MSDE before the school district will have the option to pivot to virtual instruction during inclement weather or an emergency event, according to Baxter.

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